Co-written and directed by Ry Russo-Young (who co-starred with indie wunderkinds Mark Duplass and Greta Gerwig in the 2007 flick, 'Hannah Takes the Stairs') 'Nobody Walks' could also be described as "mumblecore," with its relatively low-key depiction of an indeterminate span of time that, despite some insinuations to a certain amount of personal upheaval in the lives of its characters, the film remains as generally aimless as those who appear onscreen.
The film itself is loaded with an excellent cast that includes John Krasinski of 'The Office,' Olivia Thirlby (most recently of 'Dredd' ) and another familiar face from television and the indie film scene, Rosmarie DeWitt ('Your Sister's Sister'). In addition to those recognizable names and faces, 'Nobody Walks' is further juiced by whatever good or bad vibes Lena Dunham's name brings to a project in this post-'Girls' world that we live in. Essentially, all these elements combine to create that kind of star-studded flick that more or less passes for, or is marketed as, an "indie" movie nowadays.
Thirlby plays a young, New York-based artist named Martine, who has come to Los Angeles to seek the help of sound-designer Peter (Krasinski) in putting the finishing touches on her very artsy, sexually charged, but somewhat oblique short film entitled 'Scorpio.' Although she's clearly talented and, as we see almost immediately, as sexually charged as her film, Martine's basic affliction is that she's like most twentysomethings: a tad self-absorbed and occasionally lacking in what some might refer to as self-awareness. What is intended to be collaborative stay at the home Peter shares with his wife Caroline (DeWitt), their son Dusty (Mason Welch) and her daughter from a previous marriage, Kolt (India Ennenga), quickly transforms from a professional relationship with twinges of mutual admiration into something more personal, intimate and potentially destructive.
As the flirtation between Martine and Peter begins to become physical, 'Nobody Walks' exposes the other relationships in and around the house that also begin to violate what would be perceived as the normal code of conduct. Caroline all but encourages the flirtation of one of her patients – a wealthy screenwriter played by Justin Kirk ('Weeds') – while Kolt deals with her feelings of desire directed at her stepfather's assistant David (Rhys Wakefield). Meanwhile, Kolt must deal with romantic feelings directed at her by a classmate and friend named Avi (Sam Lerner) and then the wildly inappropriate advances and insinuations made to the sixteen-year-old by her much older Italian tutor, Marcello (Emanuele Secci).
The film is initially successful in its building of the tension between Peter and Martine that comes from their early, innocuous flirtations, which then become something far more volatile as their working proximity seems to gradually become closer. But as enjoyably tense as the seduction between the two is, the consummation and its aftermath happens too quickly – which sets the latter portion of the film off kilter, and undermines the emotional effectiveness of the events that led up to the incident. Peter undergoes a startling transformation from collaborator and admirer to an increasingly possessive and unlikable person whose aspirations for a future with Martine seem too aberrant for a character heretofore depicted as the stable, dependable and safe choice for Caroline.
Meanwhile, the film depicts Caroline's own indiscretion as something of an unusually casual and almost humorous buffer between the more transgressive actions happening on either side of her. Although DeWitt is her usual charming self, the role offers little for her to do and even less in terms of meaningfulness to the story. Ultimately, by the time the film nears its conclusion, it becomes clear what Caroline's importance is, but that does little to overcome how thin and underdeveloped her character remains throughout the story.
Additionally, while Kolt's explorations and initial examinations of her burgeoning womanhood are played against the fully-developed, but unwisely wielded sexuality of Martine, her romantic longing alongside the incomprehensibly prurient outburst of her Italian tutor come off as forgetfully melodramatic moments that were clearly meant to hold much more weight. And that contrast between intent and end result ultimately works against the film.
With her "unconventionality" bordering on pretentiousness and beguilingly gender-neutral looks, Martine remains mostly unfettered by matters of conscience or even any real consciousness of her actions, for that matter. As dramatically loaded as the storyline of 'Nobody Walks' is, it seems content to deal only with the surface of things. A young woman with a contagious sex drive and obvious hold over nearly everyone she comes in contact with willingly disrupts others' lives with a strange sense of detachment. But more troubling is the way the film depicts a family that doesn't seem that together to begin with, and doesn’t seem irreparably disturbed once the owner of said libido has moved on.
There are fine performances on display here, particularly that of Krasinski, who shows the same kind of likeable everyman dealing with pangs of longing and uncertainty as he did in 'Away We Go.' But ultimately, despite offering a few compelling, thoughtful instances, the movie is unable to connect those moments into a satisfying and cohesive whole.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Nobdy Walks' comes as a single, 25GB Blu-ray in the standard keepcase. As a release from Magnolia Home Entertainment, the disc will auto play several previews for new and upcoming releases, but they can be skipped to the top menu.
There is a certain look most films of this nature strive for and 'Nobody Walks' has it in spades. Shot on Super 16mm, the image retains its graininess throughout the film's 82-minute runtime, lending it that Sundance-y quality most would attribute to a film like this.
The film was very competently shot on the Super 16mm format and it shows in the 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, which highlights the grain beautifully, but never allows it to overtake the image, or obscure fine detail in close-ups. Naturally, in wider shots, the level of detail is lessened, but the film makes up for it with an abundantly warm feel that extols the virtues of shooting a low-budget movie on film, rather than digital.
When dealing with an image derived from 16mm, the problems one has to look out for typically have to do with the transfer attempting to cover up or reduce the grain by including heavy filters or by going overboard with other enhancements. Thankfully, none of this is present on the transfer, which appears to be free of any extraneous digital manipulation, and manages to retain what we must assume is the intended look and feel.
The film has an overall warm look to it, which not only helps to convey the location, but also grants some of the colors the chance to appear more vivid and beautiful than they would otherwise. Additionally, the contrast remains high throughout, keeping the image from appearing too tinkered with. In the end 'Nobody Walks' looks quite good overall, and the transfer manages to utilize the 16mm format to great effect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is an odd little beast, as it seems to favor certain sound elements over others with somewhat mixed results. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but in a movie where so much emphasis is put on the often-overlooked relationship between hearing and listening, the 'Nobody Walks' mix doesn't seem to put much stock in making sure the character's dialogue is as robust and clear as it should be. Who knows, perhaps that was intentional, but somehow, I doubt it.
The dialogue is by no means difficult to hear, but there are issues with the mix that seems to register voices differently. This problem produces a scene where Justin Kirk comes through loud and clear, while Rosemarie DeWitt's voice sounds strangely deep and slightly muffled. Again, it's not anything too detrimental, but it does feel noticeable at times.
Otherwise, the mix does an exemplary job of attending to the musical stylings of Fall On Your Sword – the group that handled the film's music and did the same for 'Lola Versus' and 'Another Earth.' Here the music's subtle nature is the perfect accompaniment to the sometimes-understated nature of the film itself. Driven mostly though the front speakers, songs will sometimes drift into the rear channels and occasionally offer some low key LFE effect that sounds quite good.
Where the 5.1 really earns its keep, though, is during the scenes in which Peter and Martine experiment with sound and the directional mic as it picks up the echo of the freeway off the mountains in the distance, or Peter's hand gently running along the tiled walls of his bathroom. Considering the attention the film gives to Peter's profession, it's nice to see proper attention was granted to making it stand out on the audio.
'Nobody Walks' begins a discussion about fidelity and sexuality by examining the initial splash that disrupts the otherwise calm surface of a group of seemingly well-adjusted people, but instead of allowing that disruption to linger, it brings it to fruition too soon and the film is then left with a ripple effect the writers and director don't seem very interested in exploring. Even though it is filled with fine performances and some interesting moments, those are not enough to overcome the notion that there is a disconnect in the characters that could have been interesting and worth examining, if only the film weren't so similarly disconnected. In the end, the disc features a fine transfer and good sound quality, coupled with some interesting special features that may help better round out the film for the audience, which makes this disc worth a look.